Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, December 6, 2001

Digital cameras from Francis Camera include the Olympus Ultra Fast Point & Shoot (about $400), foreground, and riding the Christmas train, the Nikon CoolPix (about $600) , left, and the Canon Power Shot G-2 ($929).

Say cheeese!

Digital cameras offer instant
gratification -- and lots of options

By Tim Ryan

Why the rush to digital photography? Digital cameras have revitalized photography with their ease of use and their ability to provide instant images. The pictures can be uploaded to a computer and manipulated using a variety of photo software. They make use of memory cards that can be used over and over again, eliminating the expense of film and film processing. That means you can take as many pictures as you want and print just those you like.

Most digital image cameras feature an LCD view-screen that allows you to compose your shot and know instantly whether it is good or bad. Then, store your photos as digital files. Use your computer as a darkroom to crop, enlarge and re-touch your photos.

And you can then email your pictures to friends. If you want prints, use an online photo finisher or a home photo printer.

OK, you already know most of this, right? But with virtually every major camera manufacturer introducing new wares, how do you choose the right camera for you?

The staff at Honolulu's Francis Camera Shop employ four criteria in assisting customers in selection, said general manager Danny Black.

>> What is the customer going to do with the digital pictures?

>> How much does he or she want to spend?

>> What kind of pictures does the customer normally take?

>> Ease of use.

Knowing what kind of photos you'll be taking most often will help you decide what resolution, storage type, power source and other features you'll need, he said.

"If they only want to send their digitals by email or make small prints like 4-by-6s, they don't need a camera with lots of resolution, which will cost them more."

The typical Francis customer spends in $500 to $700, which can buy an excellent camera when factoring markdowns and rebates being offered by manufacturers, Black said.

Some cameras produce better color with certain subjects, he said, "so we ask if they'll mostly be using it for people pictures, sports, wildlife, scenics or macro."

And ease of use is important, he said. "If you're overwhelmed by the instructions and accompanying software, then it takes all the fun out of shooting," Black said. "Each camera has its own personality. That gives the consumer options and choices."

Arlen Palijo of Francis Camera holds a Nikon D1-X digital camera in the store's vault, where the really cool stuff is kept.

Francis Camera offers 30 minutes of free "private, expert" instruction on every piece of equipment they sell, including digital cameras, as well as follow up help as needed, Black said.

Most digital camera customers first ask about resolution, the number of megapixels the camera is capable of creating in an image. But more megapixels doesn't always create better resolution, he said.

"Some manufacturers list a megapixel number which the camera can't output," said Black. "You need to see an actual print from the picture taken."

Maximum resolution is one of the most important ratings, because digital images are made up of dots called pixels. The resolution of a digital camera refers to the sharpness of its pictures and is measured by how many pixels make up a photo, usually measured in the horizontal by vertical resolution (i.e. 1,280-by-960 pixels offers film resolution good enough for a 4-by-6-inch print). A higher resolution camera will allow you to print images as large as 8-by-10 that are near photo quality.

The higher the resolution, the sharper the picture. But it also means more memory is required to store an image, both in the camera and on your computer.

A camera's memory size will determine how many images you can store. If you anticipate downloading your images often, buying a camera with a large amount of memory isn't as important.

One thing is absolute. The more megapixels the camera can produce, the higher the cost. Entry-level cameras costing as little as $200 will have 1.5 megapixels, while high-end models such as Nikon's Coolpix 990 boast 3.3 megapixels.

Other considerations:

>> Will you be using the camera for professional graphics work?

>> Will you want a zoom lens?

>> Are there specific features you require, such as macro or movie capability?

Some digital cameras have a non-removable memory chip embedded within the camera for storing images. However, most consumer cameras use an external memory card or even a floppy disk than can be removed when full. Most digital cameras ship with enough memory to take 12 to 36 shots at full resolution -- about the same as one roll of film for a traditional camera. To increase this capacity or number of photos, you can buy extra memory cards.

Then there's "compression," the process that shrinks a photo's file size. Most cameras take photos as compressed JPEG files, which allow you to store more images on a memory card. Compressing images makes them faster to save, download and email. Compressed photos used on a Web site reduce the amount of time it takes a browser to load a Web page for viewing.

For printing photos for albums, emailing or posting images on a Web site, compressed images are adequate. However, compression does cause a small amount of data loss, so if you need the best-quality images, consider buying a camera that takes uncompressed photos. You will only be able to store a few images on a memory card, but you'll get the sharpest pictures possible.

Digital cameras use significantly more power than traditional cameras. A typical film camera will usually shoot 15 or so rolls of film before the batteries need to be changed, but a digital camera may run out of batteries before it's memory is filled, especially if the LCD screen is left on. Buy an extra pack of re-chargeable batteries and select a camera that comes with an A/C adapter.

Stay away from fixed-focus cameras which preset at a certain range. Most digital cameras have auto focus, which automatically focuses the camera at your subject's distance. Higher end cameras also offer manual exposure compensation that allow you to set the exposure a few stops brighter or darker.

Other features include red-eye reduction or night-portrait mode. Red-eye reduction is ideal for photographing people or animals. It works by firing a series of short flashes before the final flash and exposure, making your subjects' pupils contract and preventing them from having glowing red eyes in the final photo.

Here are some of the models available:

Entry level

Kodak DX3500: 2.2 megapixels; 3X digital zoom; 8 MB memory card. User-friendly for beginners. Has one-touch download through separate-purchase docking station ($80). List $249.95; lowest Internet price $219.95.

Canon PowerShot A20: 2.2 megapixels; 3X optical zoom; macro capability; multiple flash settings; 2.5 frames per second continuous shooting, black-and-white and panorama modes; optional underwater housing and wide-angle and close-up lens converters. Uses CompactFlash Type 1. List price $499; Internet price $284.77.

Nikon Coolpix 775: 2.1-megapixels; seven-scene presets accessible through the mode dial; Best Shot Selection, which takes a series of shots in quick succession then automatically records the one with the most image detail; multishot mode that captures 16 consecutive frames recorded in one image file; white balance, sharpness and exposure settings; USB port; a sleep mode that helps save power without shutting it off; macro mode; automatic white balance. Uses CompactFlash memory for image storage, ships with 8MB card. List price $399, lowest Internet price $304.


Sony Cyber Shot DSC-F505V: 3.3-megapixel CCD; 5X zoom lens; 1,856-by-1,392 pixel resolution; macro mode with a minimum focus distance of 0.75 inches; 8MB Memory Stick; no optical viewfinder; USB; bundled MGI PhotoSuite software. List price: $1,000; lowest Internet price $569.

Olympus C-3040 Zoom: 3.34-megapixel; one-touch white balance, black-and-white and sepia modes, 32MB of internal memory; multi-spot metering mode; a Super Bright F1.8-to-F-2.6 zoom lens, the 35mm equivalent of a 35mm-to-105mm focal length; USB connectivity option; 15 still image modes in five different sizes from high-resolution (2,048-by-1,536 setting for 8-by-10s) to a standard (640-by-480) for Web postings. List price $999; lowest Internet price $521.77.

Canon PowerShot G2: 4.1-megapixel CCD and a 2,272-by-1,704-pixel image at largest resolution for professional and advanced amateur photographers who want quality and performance equal to that of fine 35mm SLR cameras. Creates postcard-sized images with no visible pixelation. Thirteen different exposure modes and Color Effect capability that allows users to give photos a "Vivid," "Neutral," "Sepia" or "Black and White" tone. Picture storage on CompactFlash card. List price $999; Internet low $654.99.

Canon PowerShot S110 Digital ELPH: 2.1-megapixel CCD with maximum resolution of 1,600-by-1,200; bundled lithium-ion battery and two-hour charger; 8MB CompactFlash card. Allows user to record and play back movie clips: List price $599; lowest Internet price $327.

High end

Nikon Coolpix 995: 3.34-megapixel resolution; two-part body allows the lens and the LCD to swivel independently of one another; 4X optical zoom equivalent to a 38mm-to-152mm zoom on a 35mm camera; various exposure modes, white balance, flash control and capture modes. The lens is threaded to accept optional wide-angle, fish-eye, and telephoto attachments; adjustable sharpness setting allows you to bump up the edge contrast; saturation control, which allows for adjustment of the color intensity. Saturation controls can be set from maximum saturation to complete desaturation (resulting in a black-and-white image), with various levels in between; macro; both CompactFlash Type I and Type II media storage cards. List price $899; lowest Internet price $635.

Minolta Dimage D7: 4.95 megapixel CCD for producing high-resolution image at 2,560-by-1,920 pixels; 36-bit color system for a large range of possible colors to choose from when image is sampled; 7X multiplication zoom lens, a 35mm equivalent zoom of 28 to 200mm. Center weighted, matrix and spot metering. Images can be saved in TIFF, JPEG or in the highest quality RAW mode; 16 megabyte memory card. List $1,400; as low as $1,100 with $300 rebate.

Due this month

Nikon Coolpix 5000: 5.24 megapixels; screen-based resolution 2,560-by-1,920 and a potential print size of 11-by-14 inches or more in full 35mm film print quality. Nikkor 3X zoom lens range of 28-85mm; 4X digital zoom; images can be captured in JPEG mode with various amounts of compression, or TIFF uncompressed mode, for the best image quality; video can be recorded also, with audio, at 15 fps; 32 megabyte CompactFlash card; 256 segment matrix metering system with selectable, spot metering, aperture and shutter priority modes, fully continuous manual focus and a high 800 ISO for better low light capturing ability. Lens accessories include a fisheye, telephoto and wide angle convertors; hot shoe flash connection for Nikon Speedlights. About $1,100.

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